DWP: We can’t attend a public meeting on a jobcentre closure because the meeting is public. BOLLOCKS.

A total classic from the DWP:

Last night, I attended a public meeting in Clay Cross about the DWP’s plans to close the Clay Cross jobcentre.

On arrival, the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres people said that the DWP’s Midland Shires district manager had pulled out of an invitation to attend the meeting.

I was intrigued to hear this. Everyone was.

The DWP’s explanation for this non-attendance seemed to be that the meeting had been tweeted as public and public attendance at the meeting had actually been encouraged. Public = Bad. In an email to the DUWC organisers, the DWP said that they couldn’t come, because the district manager’s attendance at a public meeting would “break the consultation conventions.”

You may be wondering what the hell that means. Here’s a bit more detail (I trust I have this straight in my head):

The DWP’s jobcentre closure plans had been open to a public consultation earlier this year. That consultation is apparently now closed. The DWP doesn’t attend public meetings after a consultation is closed, because that is Wrong. Or breaks “consultation conventions.” Or is Against Protocol. Or something. I did try to find out this morning – an investigation that didn’t go too well. After an arsey conversation with the DWP (see below), the DWP emailed me to say that the district manager in question had originally agreed to attend the meeting because the DWP thought the meeting was private. The DWP pulled out when they found out it wasn’t. I can’t say that admission actually helps the DWP’s case if we are talking about transparency, openness and readiness to meet with service users, which we are. They think it does for some reason.

What I can say is that people at the meeting weren’t impressed. It sounded very much like the DWP didn’t want to attend a meeting that might a) include actual pissed-off service users who were angry about their jobcentre being closed and b) end up as a matter of public record.

What? said people when the DWP’s non-attendance was announced.

“Unfortunately,” DWP Midland Shires said in its email on the topic to DUWC, “due to the fact that the meeting on 16 March has been “tweeted” (sic) as a public meeting and attendance encouraged, to that end we have been advised by our policy team that it’s not appropriate for him [the district manager] to attend as this would break the consultation conventions.”

I am not afraid to reveal that this kind of shit really hurts my head. The DWP couldn’t come to a public meeting because that public meeting was public. The fact that the public had been encouraged to attend this public meeting might make the meeting even more public. This last being the case, the DWP needed to keep further away. Consultation conventions (whatever they are – the DWP didn’t quite touch on these in its response to me) aside, the district manager could, surely, have attended as a show of goodwill at the very least. Or as a show of responsibility, even. The closure proposal has the district manager’s name on it. At the very least, someone from that office could stand up and answer to it. In public, etc. But no. The public meeting was too public.

Do go on, I thought.

The email did.

In its email to the meeting organisers, the DWP said that a non-public meeting with “partners from key organisations to discuss future working with vulnerable customers,” would be fine – “we will happily arrange to do that possibly meeting at Alfreton jobcentre,” etc, etc. This was weird. I’m not particularly aware of key or otherwise organisations that represent everybody who attends jobcentres, but there you go. The feeling at the meeting was that the DWP just wasn’t keen on face-to-face discussions with people who actually use jobcentres and/or local people who are angry about local services disappearing.

On that topic: the DWP told me that it proposed to put a jobcentre employee in a library or somesuch on a part-time basis. Unfortunately, that misses the sort of points about closures that the DWP might pick up if it attended public meetings. A part-time worker hardly replaces a whole office. Plus, as people at the meeting pointed out, those sort of floating “initiatives” don’t last. Sooner or later, the part-time service is cut. Plus, the library might close. Plus, as one jobcentre user said, closing down buildings and saying services weren’t needed was the sort of idea that destroyed towns. There’d been much debate since the Brexit vote about people who felt left behind. Here was government closing public services and leaving people even further behind.

Local MP Natascha Engel was present at the meeting. She told the meeting of the pained struggle that MPs generally have these days getting any information out of the DWP. She said that after much trying, she’d finally got the Midland Shires DWP on the phone to ask about the public meeting and the now-AWOL district manager. That office told her that the district manager’s absence was “protocol,” because the public consultation on jobcentre closures had ended. As I said above, it seemed that when a consultation period ended, DWP suits couldn’t attend a public meeting. Or something. Engel did not look best pleased.

She told me that the DWP had said:

“after a consultation has closed, which they said this [one] is, it goes into a review period and that in a review period, they are not allowed to attend public meetings… They didn’t realise this was a public meeting.”

In other words, DWP worthies won’t meet with everyday punters outside of set dates to talk about a major service loss. This concept surely achieves a whole new level of bollocks. The PCS was at the meeting and their guy seemed to think that the consultation was still open in one form or another.

It damn well should be, if you ask me. The DWP press officer I spoke to (read “railed against”) this morning also seemed to think the consultation was still open when we talked. She went off to check when I told her that the Midland Shires DWP said it was closed. The DWP came back and said it was closed. I don’t care. The consultation period was extremely damn short. The consultation period on the jobcentre closure published on the DWP’s website ran only from 30 January 2017 to 28 February 2017. I doubt very much that people who actually use jobcentres and sign on had enough time to make their thoughts known and returned to the DWP. How many people who use jobcentres even knew that consultation was on?

WHY ARE PEOPLE WHO USE THESE SERVICES ALWAYS SIDELINED?

Really.

In the interests of the fairness which I like to scrupulously observe on this blog, I rang the Midland Shires DWP office to put the above questions and situation to them. They refused to speak to me. They said the district manager was in a meeting and that anyway, I had to put my questions to the DWP’s central press office. I made the point that since I was writing about the Midland Shires office, they might want to take the opportunity to share their views while the opportunity was going. No dice. Boo.

I sent my questions to the DWP’s central press office.

They emailed and told me to call them.

I called. That call turned to shite quite quickly.

Firstly, the press office didn’t seem inclined to answer my questions until I told them where this story was likely to be published – as if that mattered a damn. I said something along the lines of “how about we imagine I’m going to put this on my blog.” I meant to say – who gives a shit? It always pisses me off when press offices do this. They ask who you work for, because they’re trying to work out whether or not you’re worth spending time with/on. Doubtless they’re also trying to establish whether or not you have an editor they can ring and bawl out. Why should it matter who anyone is writing for? I’m asking for information that ought to be public. Everybody should be given the information they want from government departments. Doesn’t matter if I print it on my arse, this blog, on a bottled letter, or in a dying mainstream publication. Let’s not forget that either the DWP’s Midland Shires office told me to contact the central press office for a view of the above-discussed DWP Midland Shires situation. “Piss off, You Nobody,” wasn’t exactly the answer I was after.

I digress.

I told the DWP press office that I wanted to know about the jobcentre closure consultation conventions, or process, whatever that all was, and why the DWP Midland Shires wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t show at a public meeting on an important topic with people who are directly affected by a jobcentre closure.

The officer said that local public meeting attendance was up to the district manager and that the press office couldn’t speak on that officer’s behalf. I said that the DWP Midland Shires office had told me to contact the DWP’s central press office precisely so that the press office could speak on that office’s behalf. Why else would I ring the central press office?

The press office said that people had ample opportunity to comment on jobcentre closures through their representatives and the formal consultation process. I said I doubted that. I attend jobcentres myself with people who have literacy difficulties. They struggle hard enough to manage the DWP’s demanding jobsearch regimes, never mind working through consultation documents.

Et cetera. There was more. I think I’ve blocked it already. What a pile.

Speaking of which, here’s a comment from the DWP on the jobcentre closures. Fairness and all that, as I said:

“We’ve been clear that this is about improving the services we deliver, while making best use of taxpayers’ money.”

Jesus Christ. Really. Make it end.

Update March 21: Sign the petition to keep Clay Cross jobcentre open (via Kay Adlington in the comments)

8 thoughts on “DWP: We can’t attend a public meeting on a jobcentre closure because the meeting is public. BOLLOCKS.

  1. The DWP must be laughing their heads off really. It’s got to a stage where they can pretty much treat anyone, claimants, the disabled, or the general public, just as they like.
    They can cut benefits, close Jobcentres, sanction people into destitution. Take away their mobility cars and wheelchairs, and still get away with it.
    All the while maintaining the official DWP, smug, patronising attitude to anyone who disagrees with them. Because after all, they are right, and everyone else is wrong.

    “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism

    • And the extraordinary lack of accountability, particularly now as so much mainstream attention is on Brexit and undoubtedly will be for the foreseeable future.

      No matter that the Left Behind people that the mainstream likes to rattle on about are being left behind even further as people pointed out at this meeting. The truth is that service provision is being eroded further all the time.

  2. How about this for a fun fact comparison
    Point 4 of their proposal:
    “We believe that it is a reasonable expectation that claimants travel to an office
    within 3 miles or 20 minutes by public transport of their existing jobcentre. This is
    an approach applied across the jobcentre network and not specific to Clay Cross.
    If a proposed closure is outside of these criteria, we have chosen to consult
    publicly. This will ensure that we take into account the impact of any closure
    before we make a final decision. ”

    Vs the times and distances they state later in the proposal

    “Proposed location for
    service delivery

    Alfreton Jobcentre 5.4 miles and approximately 34 minutes by public transport
    Markham Jobcentre 5 miles and approximately 35 minutes by public transport ”

    Which they also state is the shortest times! I’m sure my maths is good enough to realise that this isn’t a suitable distance or journey time based on their own proposal.

    • Quite interesting, that. I had a bit of an argument with the DWP person about the length of the journey from Chesterfield to Clay Cross on the bus. I knew how long it was, primarily because I did the journey myself to get to the meeting. Went on the 54 bus from Chesterfield. Quite a hike it was and not as cheap as all that.

  3. Pingback: DWP: Closing your jobcentre will improve the service. People who use the jobcentre: No it won’t | Kate Belgrave

  4. Pingback: Why we’re on strike: Eastern Avenue jobcentre staff out against jobcentre closures | Kate Belgrave

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